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Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia)

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Gathering of Waters
Gathering of Waters
by Bernice L. McFadden
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 14.40
40 used & new from CDN$ 7.40

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘I am Money. Money Mississippi.’, Dec 18 2014
This review is from: Gathering of Waters (Paperback)
The township of Money, Mississippi is the narrator of this story which focusses on the Hilson and Bryant families during the 20th century. While two significant and dreadful events - the destructive Mississippi flood of 1927 and the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 - are part of this story, it’s the people who dominate the story. And it works because while readers as individuals may not believe in animism or in previous existence, how can we resist the voice of the town?

‘Listen, if you choose to believe nothing else that transpires here, believe this: your body does not have a soul; your soul has a body, and souls never, ever die.’

The novel opens early in the 20th century, in Oklahoma, where a young girl named Doll is possessed by the spirit of a dead woman named Esther. Doll’s mother puts her up for adoption after an attempt to exorcise Esther fails, and Doll (and the story) move to Money, Mississippi. Under the influence of Esther’s spirit, Doll grows up to be a manipulative woman capable of using sex and theft to achieve her objectives. There is a nicer side of Doll, but Esther’s spirit is too strong for that side to dominate for long. Doll has a daughter, Hemmingway, who comes to despise her.

After the 1927 flood, Hemmingway becomes the focal character. Her daughter, Tass, meets and falls in love with Emmett Till during the summer of 1955. Sometime after Emmett Till is murdered, Tass marries, moves away to Detroit and has her own family. Emmett’s memory, and his spirit, is never very far away from her. And Esther’s spirit? It took another direction.

As I reflect on the story while writing this review, there are so many aspects of the story that should not have worked for me, that should have prevented my being caught up and lost in this story. Something in the combination has drawn me in. The three very different women who bring this story to life have their own identities, their own magic. I knew of the murder of Emmett Till, but in this story he is much more than a symbol of the civil rights movement. This is the kind of novel which weaves its own magic, has its own soul.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Accursed Kings, vol. 2: The Iron King
The Accursed Kings, vol. 2: The Iron King
by Maurice Druon
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 11.54
55 used & new from CDN$ 0.80

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘He may well be the most handsome man in the world, but he knows only how to look at people in silence.’, Dec 17 2014
The Iron King of the title is Philip IV (‘ the Fair’), King of France from October 1285 to November 1314. During his reign, France was progressively transformed from a feudal to a centralised state. Philip relied less on his barons than on his civil service, including Guillaume de Nogaret and Enguerrand de Marigny, and looked to remove those who might contest him in anyway. As part of this strategy, he sought to control the French clergy, causing him conflict with Pope Boniface VIII.

‘He wanted to be loved and feared at the same time. And it was asking too much.’

After expelling the Jews from France in 1306, he annihilated the order of the Knights Templar in 1307. Philip was in debt to both groups, and his actions enabled him to take ownership of their property. The Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake in March 1314, where he is said to have cursed those responsible - the Pope (Clement V), Guillame de Nogaret and King Philip:

‘Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation of your line.’

At the time of this curse, Philip was 45, in good health, with three married sons (Louis, Philip and Charles), and his daughter Isabella was married to Edward II of England. By the end of the year, with his family in disarray because of claims that his three daughters-in law were adulterous, Philip was dead. As were Clement V and Guillame de Nogaret.

Yes, it’s not surprising that G.R.R. Martin states that ‘This is the original Game of Thrones’. ‘The Iron King’ is the first of a series of seven books by Maurice Druon following the French Capetian dynasty in the 14th century. I first read this novel fifteen years ago, but found it difficult to locate copies of the subsequent novels in English translation. The series is called The Accursed Books, and the seventh book in the series is about to be published in English for the first time, in January 2015. This is great historical fiction and I’ve added ‘The Strangled Queen’ (the second book in the series) to my reading list.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Hiramic Brotherhood of the Third Temple
Hiramic Brotherhood of the Third Temple
Prix : CDN$ 7.27

3.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Once upon a distant time, there was a land called Palestine. Is it yours or is it mine….’, Dec 16 2014
I found this a challenging book to read: there’s a lot of factual information presented beneath a veneer of fiction. This particular combination of fact and fiction made it difficult for me to follow any character development or to become engrossed in what I thought was a thriller. Conversely (and perhaps perversely), I found much of the background information interesting and thought provoking. In this book, Mr Hanna essentially presents an extended history of the modern state of Israel, and a strong condemnation of its government. This condemnation is extended to the USA, and I found the references to Barack ‘Uncle Tom’ Obama (there were six such references) gratuitous distractions.

‘While the background information in this book is historically factual and verifiable by anyone with access to an uncensored internet or a well-stocked reference library, the plot and main protagonists are fictional – but not necessarily far-fetched – so that any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.’

The main characters are David Reisner, an investigative journalist who is investigating the Hiramic Brotherhood of the Third Temple, a secret society within Israel’s masonic community, Michael Zeldin, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who first alerted Reiser to the possible existence of this secretive group, and Mark Banner, an independent journalist and author. The Brotherhood seeks to tunnel (illegally, of course) beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in order to build a Third Temple on what just happens to the one of Islam’s holiest sites.

I found it impossible to focus on what the Brotherhood were attempting to do because any fiction was largely secondary to a lot of information about the Zionist cause, and the 20th century history of the region. For me, the fiction became overwhelmed by Mr Hanna’s exhaustively detailed case against Israel, against the influence wielded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over the American Congress, and against the media ‘which is serving the interest of the Anglo-Zionist Political Corporate Military Industrial Empire’.

And yet, for all of the distractions and irritations, I continued reading. Mr Hanna’s passionate advocacy for the Palestinian people held my attention and made me think more about how the necessary compromises can be negotiated and agreed in order that the Palestinians and Israel can co-exist peacefully and with equality in the same land.

This is not an easy book to read, but I am glad I persisted.

‘UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to ‘cease such provocative actions’. Sure, that will happen when kosher pigs fly.’

Note: I was sent an unsolicited electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

A Touch of Nerves
A Touch of Nerves
Prix : CDN$ 3.32

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘I’d like you to swing by the Tupelo Chemical Research Center in Alabama., Dec 14 2014
This review is from: A Touch of Nerves (Kindle Edition)
' Follow up on an incident report and a phone call I got from the facility commander yesterday.’

And at the Tupelo Chemical Research Center, US Army Captain Ben Hawkins is fairly sure that he’s not just looking at a case of faulty record-keeping. It looks like several pounds of a toxic nerve gas VX 212 – slated for destruction – is missing, as is the Army officer tasked with destroying it. Who has the missing nerve gas, and what is the connection with a missing American student? The FBI is soon searching for two Iranians, each with their own reasons for wanting to harm the USA.

‘All they knew was that someone had entered the country using her passport.’

A number of US agencies become involved and Hawkins finds it very difficult to let the case go to the FBI, especially after he is contacted by a man, calling himself Julian, who seems to have quite a lot of useful information to share. Hawkins risks the possibility of a court martial as he continues to work with the mysterious Julian to identify where, how and by whom the nerve gas might be used.

The novel moves at a rapid pace, the tension heightened by the fact that terrorist attacks using nerve gas are an entirely plausible fear, as is the possibility of alienated individuals becoming terrorists. The only aspect of the novel that didn’t ring entirely true for me was the amount of information that Ben Hawkins shared with his girlfriend, but it’s a minor quibble. There are a number of twists and turns in the hunt to locate and stop the terrorists, and once I picked up this novel I couldn’t put it down.

‘Think about it, Captain. If a terrible incident occurs, and, fairly or not, that incident could be blamed on a foreign nation, what would be the consequences to that nation?’

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Three Strikes and You're Dead
Three Strikes and You're Dead
by Michael a. Draper
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 23.25
7 used & new from CDN$ 15.02

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘The pounding on the door was so unexpected that he spilled part of his drink.’, Dec 13 2014
Baseball players are on strike, and they certainly don’t have everyone’s sympathy. The Vindicator wants to teach them a lesson, and what better way to do this than by killing some of the league’s top players? Randy Larkin and the team at the Peterson Detective Agency are having coffee when news breaks Bobby Chapel’s murder. They talk about the case:

‘Sounds like someone who has just taken the first step in what is planned to be a number of other crimes.’

A few days pass by, we learn more about Randy and his partners, their lives and backgrounds, and then another baseball superstar is killed. The Vindicator certainly has the attention of the baseball commissioner’s security team. The FBI is involved now, but at least one assistant baseball commissioner thinks that the commission itself needs to do something. And so they do: they hire the Peterson Detective Agency (already known to them from a previous baseball-related case) to work on the case!

From here on, the story picks up speed. Randy, Roseanne Kelly, her brother Graham Dunne under the guidance of the head of the Peterson Detective Agency, ‘Pete’ Peterson are soon racing to solve the case. Will they be able to prevent any additional murders? How will the FBI take their involvement in the case? Is the Vindicator acting alone? And just how useful can social media be in helping to solve crimes?

If you like mystery and suspense with a touch of humour, you may well enjoy this novel. I did. Michael Draper is an on-line friend of mine, and while he drew this book to my attention, I bought my own copy.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

by D J Taylor
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 23.16
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.69

5.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘I will happily declare that there is no sight so harmonious to the eye or suggestive to the spirit as Highland scenery.’, Dec 10 2014
This review is from: Kept (Hardcover)
In 1863, Henry Ireland, a young landowner is thrown from his horse and dies. His widow Isabel, already grieving for the loss of their child is removed from society into the care of a guardian, James Dixey who has a passion for collecting. Mr Pardew, a debt collector manages to entangle both a destitute grocer and a prominent lawyer in his shady schemes. Mr Pardew has great plans. Esther, a housemaid at James Dixey’s country house follows a former footman to London. And yes, while these separate strands will converge, not all endings will be neat and tidy.

‘The key should be kept in her pocket. The door should be locked at all times.’

There are many different characters in this book, some central, some peripheral and least one who appears and then disappears after a chapter. In the notes at the end, Mr Taylor acknowledges ‘the direct influence of Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Gissing, Jack London, Mary Mann, Henry Mayhew, George Moore, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Anne Thackeray Ritchie, W. M. Thackeray and Anthony Trollope’ and those influences shape the story in interesting ways.

‘It is remarkable, is it not, the volume of evidence that will suddenly spring to hand when the perpetrator of a crime has finally be unmasked?’

I was given this book as a gift quite recently, picked it up and couldn’t put it down. I recognised (or thought I did) some aspects and then realised that this was a completely different story. Why did certain events happen, and who is behind them? Why must Isabel be confined, and was Henry’s death a simple accident? Will Esther help Isabel, and will Mr Pardew get his comeuppance? Read on, and find out. This is a clever, readable and very enjoyable novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing and Trappings, 1914 to 1928
Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing and Trappings, 1914 to 1928
Prix : CDN$ 18.24

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Dress, from uniform to everyday civilian accommodations, to high fashion,, Dec 9 2014
has meaning for our interpretation of the First World War.’

Men wearing grey and khaki in the trenches, women working in factories wearing overalls and trousers. People making do with existing clothing, adapting it to new requirements, being thrifty rather than fashionable. In this well-illustrated book, Ms Edwards writes about what people on both sides of World War I wore both on the home front and the front line.

‘What people wear matters. This book examines what was worn for its significance, calling on what is revealed in the smallest details of personal dress ...’

Clothes, hair and accessories are covered in both uniform and civilian wear: how people achieved either individuality or uniformity depending on opportunity and taste. Practicality was important, as was thrift. Women wore trousers, hemlines lifted and men’s suits were made using less material. And in keeping with the need for increased durability and practicality, fabrics evolved as well.

‘Thrift had become a patriotic duty.’

But this book is not just about what people wore during the war years, it touches on the changes to society which had an impact on why people made the choices they did. More women were working outside the home, fewer people were available for domestic employment.

And while I knew about white feathers as a symbol of cowardice (in Australia as well as in Britain), I never knew that this was the reason why:

‘The white feather was a long-established symbol of cowardice in Britain, stemming from the adage that a fighting bird with white feathers in its tail was of inferior stock, and thus unfit to fight.’

I found this book interesting reading on a number of fronts, particularly: the social and practical considerations of clothing during World War I; the evolution of women’s involvement in work outside the home; and the ways in which people adapted both individuality and uniformity. The photographs and drawings augment the text well.

‘This has been a book about appearance. What appearance can reveal about even such a time as the First World War.’

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher I. B. Tauris for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Shadow Broker (Mr. Finn Book 1)
The Shadow Broker (Mr. Finn Book 1)
Prix : CDN$ 5.54

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘Working in this business is just like running a con. You find your mark, make your play and get out as quickly as you can.’, Dec 8 2014
Finn Harding used to be a private investigator. Until he lost his licence. Now he works for a different kind of clientele – people who don’t care whether he’s licensed or not as long as he finds the people they are looking for. It’s a shadowy world: payments in cash and on the periphery of the law, but it pays the bills.

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

But then Finn gets asked to find someone who is trying to take over a black market business in personal information brokerage. His success in finding this person leads to another job offer, and things quickly become dangerous, both for Finn, his ex-wife Brooke and daughter Becca. There are more than a few people in pursuit of Finn, from both sides of the law. Will one of them get to him before he works out exactly what is going on? Can he protect his family?

‘I am not sure the exact moment I became a criminal.’

This is a fast-paced crime thriller for modern times. Finn Harding reminds me of some of the private investigators from the hardboiled crime fiction around the 1940s, only updated for the 21st century. I liked the character and thoroughly enjoyed this story. Crimes thrillers which rely in part on the technical details of cyberspace can often lose momentum because of the need to explain how some aspects work. Trace Conger provided enough information for me to follow what is happening in the story, and mixed in enough action to keep it all interesting. There are some great characters in this story, including Finn’s father: a prototypical grumpy old man.

I believe that there will be more books in this series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘The most ancient and enduring power of women is prophecy, my gift and my curse.’, Dec 7 2014
Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2012. I knew very little about her, except that she composed quite a lot of glorious music.While some of the chronology of her life is contested (was she aged eight or fourteen when she was enclosed with an older nun?), her life and achievements are amazing.

In this novel, Mary Sharratt has the eight year old Hildegard (born in Bermersheim vor der Höhe, County Palatine of the Rhine, Holy Roman Empire) given to a ‘holy’ anchorite named Jutta. Hildegard is then walled up with her companion at Disibodenberg in the Palatinate Forest in what is now Germany. An anchorite, as I discovered, was usually a woman (an anchoress) who chose to live alone in a small house with a screened window through which she conversed with the outside world. Life as an anchoress was not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but Jutta (who was often regarded as a living saint) was a fanatic.

This novel, told as a first-person account by Hildegard in old age, depicts their life together, the consequences of Jutta’s extremism on both herself and on Hildegard. While depicting the horrors of Hildegard’s life with Jutta for three decades, the novel also encompasses Hildegard’s life once Jutta is dead: where she goes public with the visions she has experienced and eventually founds and leads her own covent where she becomes a beloved abbess. Her life was not without controversy.

‘I am not afraid’, I whispered, ‘ What can they do to one old nun?’

I found this novel interesting for its depiction of Hildegard’s life as an anchorite. Ms Sharratt imagines a Hildegard consistent with the times in which she lived, possessed of a deep religious experience. While my focus remains on her music, I can only marvel at the spirit which, having endured so much, was inspired to write such soaring music. An amazing person.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

There's a House in the Land: (Where a Band Can Take a Stand)
There's a House in the Land: (Where a Band Can Take a Stand)
by Shaun D. Mullen
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 15.06
6 used & new from CDN$ 13.54

4.0 étoiles sur 5 ‘No, Kiln Farm wasn’t the kind of home I had expected.’, Dec 7 2014
Remember the 1970s? I guess that those of us who do have to be in our forties and older. Where did those years go? And how and with whom did we spend them?

Sean Mullen has written on his experience of the 1970s when, as a Vietnam veteran, he and a group of other men, women with some children and a terrific collection of creatures lived on a farm outside the far western suburbs of Philadelphia. Twenty five or so people called the farm home during the ten years that Shaun Mullen lived there: more a tribe than a commune. There were eight people when he moved in, and two when he moved out. And what interesting people they were: Doctor Duck, Doctor Doc, Bigfoot and Bix in particular. I loved the animals, particularly Doctor Duck’s dog Bart and Pattie’s dog Ged. Every tribe needs a massive white Great Pyrenees to keep watch.

‘If the farm were a ship, the kitchen would have been its engine room.’

Among the vivid descriptions of the people, the idiosyncrasies of the building, the surroundings, the animals and the visitors, there is tragedy. There are several tragic deaths, but it was the death of Pattie and her daughter Caitlin in a car accident that had the greatest impact on me. People moved in and out, some stayed for years before moving on, others stopped briefly, already on their way somewhere else.

This book is in part a collection of sketches – of lives and events – but it also provides a depiction of some of the spirit of the 1970s. Part of this is the restlessness that was part of life for so many at the end of the Vietnam War, and the escapism that sometimes took a creative form and sometimes a reliance on alcohol and other drugs. There’s joy and tragedy in this tale, a sense of acceptance and of belonging. It’s not just a description of life and individuals, Shaun Mullen frequently provides insights into behaviours and motivations. People do things for a reason, even if the reason isn’t always obvious.

‘I had few illusions about life when I moved to the farm and none when I left.’

I enjoyed reading Shaun Mullen’s account of life on Kiln Farm, home for a tribe during the 1970s, while they explored a range of economic ventures and made ready, individually, for the next steps in their lives. If you remember the 1970s, you may enjoy this account of it. If you don’t remember the 1970s, you may enjoy reading about it.

Note: I was offered and accepted a copy of this book for review purposes. I’m glad that I did.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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